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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

23 March 2021

ESCAP / Suwat Chancharoensuk

ESCAP / Suwat Chancharoensuk

Excellencies, Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Eighth Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development.

Our theme this week is “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia and the Pacific.”

One year on, the socio-economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 remains the most critical threat to our achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

This week is a timely opportunity to engage with governments and stakeholders to review our progress towards the SDGs and to explore together policy innovations and solutions.

Simply speaking, our region is not on track to meet any of the 17 Goals by 2030, as highlighted in this year’s edition of the Asia-Pacific SDG Progress Report, which was launched last week. This is even before the onset of COVID-19.

The most progress in the region was observed in good health and well-being, and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

Some progress was also seen in Goals on no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, reduced inequalities and partnerships for the Goals.

But I am deeply concerned by the region’s lack of progress on climate action and life below water.  

In addition, progress remained uneven across all 17 Goals at the subregional and national levels.

It is also clear that the effects of COVID-19 might actually reverse hard-won development gains, especially as countries in special situations have been hit the hardest.

Over the past year, virtually all countries have faced a deep slowdown in economic growth, leading to falling productivity and job losses.

The pandemic has pushed millions of people across the region into extreme poverty, severely affecting the advancement of all dimensions of sustainable development.  

The pandemic also shows us that in addition to the risk of leaving behind vulnerable groups including 690 million of persons with disabilities, older persons and over 65 million migrants within countries, there is also the chance that vulnerable countries will be left behind.

With the risk of a “K-shaped” economic recovery, some segments of our societies as well as some countries may recover well, while others continue to lag behind.

Without adequate policy coordination and coherence across socio-economic dimensions, our region risks trending towards polarization of development outcomes.

Now is the time for us to commit to pausing a “K-shaped” recovery in the post-COVID-19 era.

I am calling on the decision makers to formulate a set of policy packages that could create harmony between health and economy, and between economy and environment.

Today, let us commit to build resilience to the twin crises that threaten our future the most:

First, let us focus on overcoming the socio-economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis by safeguarding lives and livelihoods.

By managing and containing health risks, governments are in a better position to address poverty, hunger, good health and well-being.

We must scale-up health-care provisions and universal health care schemes and work towards providing adequate social protection for all.

To ensure a sustainable economic recovery, governments must support policies that produce higher levels of productivity, reduce inequalities and encourage responsible consumption and production patterns. It is also critical that we revive trade, and build resilient supply chains and sustainable connectivity.

Second, we must use all our investable resources to support increased climate action ambition in order to combat the climate crisis.  

Our pledge to decarbonize economies by 2050, end fossil fuel subsidies, tackle air pollution and step up ambition for the Nationally Determined Contributions must be mainstreamed in the recovery plans of countries.  

Along with accelerating our energy transition for a new economy, it is possible for us to pivot our way of life and interaction with nature into one that is more harmonious rather than hostile.

Government policies should be directed towards greening the recovery through climate action, inclusive institutions and partnerships for the Goals.

I am convinced that the twin crises of COVID-19 and the changing climate is a great moment of awakening for us to forge SDG alliances and solidarity among countries and communities.

To help us do so, the region now must develop digital technology-based policy responses and mainstream data and statistics in its recovery effort.

The Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership report 2021 entitled “Responding to the COVID-19  Pandemic: Leaving No Country Behind”, which will be launched later today, aims to provide a set of policy recommendations on the role of digitalization.

Along with a successful vaccine roll-out, we can regain the momentum needed to achieve the SDGs.

As we lay the groundwork for a sustainable and resilient recovery, let us remember that the SDGs are our compass and can continue to play a force for good in transforming our societies in the post-COVID-19 era.

ESCAP is committed to strengthen, in close collaboration with the UN development system, multi-stakeholder partnerships at the regional, subregional and national levels to recover better together. 

As in prior years, we will convey your policy priorities and key messages from this Forum to the 2021 High-level Political Forum in New York. 

I look forward to listening to your views and suggestions on the future course of action towards attainment of the SDGs.

I count on your commitment and able leadership. 

Thank you.

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